Thursday, October 30, 2014

FROM GHOSTS IN LITERATURE TO SEANCES IN THE WHITE HOUSE: SEEKING ANSWERS FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

At midnight tonight (October 31, 2014), All Hallow's Eve begins. The one day, according to legend, when the spirits of the dead return to walk amongst the living. So, what better time to address the mystery that has confounded and intrigued people for centuries?

Namely: What happens after we die? Do ghosts exist? Do all souls go to heaven? If not, what happens to the rest? Do restless spirits haunt people and places? No matter where you live on the planet Earth, the question of ghosts and/or spirits watching over us remains a mystery mankind still wants to solve.

You may have visited a Ghost Town in the American West, where dusty streets and a neglected cemetery are all that remains of the people who once lived there? Perhaps you toured a castle in Scotland reputed to be haunted? I have and, trust me, there are several. You may even have experienced an adrenalin rush hearing ghostly footsteps. Was it just your overactive imagination or did a gathering mist take the shape of a person? Then again, perhaps you just love a good ghost story.

As most of you likely know, there are numerous great works of classic literature featuring ghosts or spectral apparitions including: ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens (1843), ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins (1859), ‘The Canterville Ghost’ by Oscar Wilde (1887), ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James (1898), ‘The Shining’ by Stephen King (1997), as well as ‘Macbeth’ (1606) and ‘Hamlet’ (1602) by William Shakespeare.

[Pictured: Costume sketch for Hamlet, Act I, featuring the father of Hamlet and the spirit warriors. Public Domain]

Let's not forget popular fiction for children that also featured ghosts and/or addressed spiritualism, from ‘The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving (1862) to the worldwide phenomenal Harry Potter 7-book series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling.

Regardless of how many centuries have eclipsed into history, fascination about ghosts, haunted locations, misty apparitions, and even psychic communications with the spirit realm remain strong. Films, stage plays, and television continuously adapt many works of Gothic or paranormal fiction to their medium, and quite profitably.

Let’s face it; death is the final door through which we all must pass. And the number of people in the 21st century who still seek to obtain an answer to this ancient mystery has, if anything, grown stronger.

Ghost Hunters, a popular television series on SyFy features members of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) as they endeavor to understand and investigate reported paranormal activity. Armed with high tech equipment and devices such as thermal and night vision cameras, EMF (electromagnetic field) monitors, digital video cameras and audio recording devices, they seek to prove (or disprove) the existence of ghosts or paranormal occurrences. Even after ten years, this series continues to provide compelling insight into the paranormal.

Another hit television series with an ever-growing audience (of which I am a loyal viewer) is LMN’s “The Haunting Of…” with psychic/medium Kim Russo. Each episode documents Ms. Russo as she accompanies celebrities to places where they experienced traumatic paranormal experiences. Without question there are many people who are cynical naysayers about the existence of ghosts or any individual professing she can communicate with the dead. However, Ms. Russo continuously demonstrates her extraordinary ability and otherworldly clarity, especially when she acknowledges departed loved ones by name and private, personal information she would have no way of knowing without her gift.

And it is the concept of spiritualism, the ability to communicate with the dead, that brings me to the White House. Picture this. The country is at war. Death seems to surround everyone and, most likely, a sense of hopelessness as well. As America's then Commander-In-Chief wearily tries to focus his attention on the dire circumstances of his Presidency, he is also cognizant that his fragile wife is overcome with grief--unable to come to terms with the death of two of her young sons. And so it was that on 23 April 1863, President Abraham Lincoln attended a séance. Was it any wonder that Mary Todd Lincoln, lost in the enveloping waters of her sadness, grasped onto the possibility of communicating with her boys.

According to 'Abraham and Mary' by Kenneth J. Winkle, Mary Todd Lincoln participated in eight séances at the White House, and one at the Soldier's Home. As a pragmatic man, Lincoln perhaps attended the first séance out of concern for his wife's welfare and skepticism whether the medium was honest or a charlatan. The fact that he allowed his wife to continue the séances at the White House might be attributed to his belief in whatever happened at that April 1863 séance, or that his wife seemed comforted by the experience...perhaps both.[Pictured: Seance. Public Domain]

I tend to think that since he sanctioned the séances at the White House, Lincoln must have experienced some type of validation. One must also remember that Abraham Lincoln clearly had psychic ability of his own. Ten days before his Assassination, he experienced a prophetic dream that he would be killed. Three days before his death, he told his friend and biographer, Ward Hill Lamon, about the vivid, disturbing, recurring dream. Each night of the three nights leading up to the day of his Assassination, Lincoln had the same dream. Ultimately, on the fateful day, Lincoln told William H. Crook (a bodyguard) about the dreams. Although Crook advised Lincoln to not attend the play that evening, the President replied he'd promised his wife. Then, as he departed the White House, Lincoln said 'goodbye' to Crook, the first and only time he'd said that to the man. Before that instance, Lincoln always bid Crook 'goodnight'.

After the murder of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln's interest in spiritualism increased, and she continued to attend and participate in séances. Whether or not the mediums whose services she sought were truly gifted we will never know. One can only hope they did not prey upon such a fragile lady who had lost so much and suffered such heartbreaking losses.

Ironically, it is Lincoln himself who has been documented by many guests and staff members to haunt the White House. Among those who have professed to see the ghost of Abraham Lincoln are British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands, and even Maureen Reagan (daughter of President Ronald Reagan). [Pictured: Abraham Lincoln. Public Domain]

According to Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of Lincoln's neighbors in Illinois asked if he believed in a future realm after death. Lincoln allegedly replied, "I'm afraid there isn't. It isn't a pleasant thing to think that when we die, that is the last of us."

One can only speculate if Lincoln haunts the White House because he has now become part of the mystery that eludes us and seeks to communicate that knowledge? What wisdom does he wish to impart, if indeed his spirit lingers? Can a physical death destroy an intangible soul? Or does that soul move on and perhaps, on occasion, even visit the living?

And so, the mystery continues. We still search for answers. Until then, what do you believe?

Happy Halloween! ~ AKB

For more information about Kim Russo, Ghost Hunters, or to learn more about my writing, visit:

http://www.kimthehappymedium.com/
http://www.syfy.com/ghosthunters
http://www.ashleykathbilsky.com

6 comments:

  1. Awesome post, Ashley. I am a believer since I have experienced ghosts of my father and daughter. In my case, once I realized what was happening I was grateful not scared. :)

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    1. Thanks, Paisley. I am a believer, too. I have had many paranormal experiences, but have never seen a ghost. Would love to gp on an investigation with the Ghost Hunters or meet Kim Russo. She is amazing. I have a stromg faith in God, but I also believe there are spirits who - for whatever reason - remain earthbound, and that those who have moved on watch over us and try to communicates. How comfortimg that your daughter and father came to you. ((hugs))

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  2. Oh, don't forget Marley in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
    Although I am a skeptic about ghosts and hauntings, I still love to hear the experiences of people who have encountered those who exist in the afterlife. There's still that bit of excitement and the wonder that comes with these stories. Maybe...just maybe I might be wrong to be so cynical.
    There are, after all, more things on Earth and in Heaven than we know.
    I enjoyed reading your blog, Ashley, and the pictures were lovely.
    All the very best to you.

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    1. Thank you, dear Sarah. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical. :))

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  3. You know I'm a believer and have experienced seeing ghosts. Great post well written!

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    1. Thank you, Carolyn. Yes, I remember the little man. Fascinating experience for you! :)

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